Beleaguered TSA officers get a shot at raises

This thin blue federal line isn't paid according to its importance.

Imagine dealing with grumpy people — hundreds of them every hour — for eight or 10 hours at a time. Having to touch many of them, or rifling through their stuff, not knowing what gross items you might find.

That’s the shift of Transportation Security Administration officers. Air transportation has become an insane experience on average. But that’s the world we’ve got, and TSA officers make up the thin line against whatever Al-Qaeda can dream up.

But TSOs don’t make much. About $17 an hour on average to start. According to the American Federation of Government Employees, they’re among the lowest paid federal employees. AFGE says many officers depend on overtime to make enough money.

This week the House will take up a bill to move TSOs under Title 5, putting them in the GS pay schedule system where, presumably, they’d earn more money. The bill would not allow pay cuts. It would basically end the TSA’s authority to have it’s own personnel system. TSOs would also get expanded bargaining rights and several other workplace protections other Title 5 employees have. They wouldn’t be able to strike.

The bill is a year old. It was first introduced by Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson. Only last month did it clear the House Committee on Homeland Security. It’ll likely pass the house. It already has 238 sponsors. A companion Senate bill from Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz has a less certain future.

TSA doesn’t exactly rank high on the best places to work listings. Like, 398th out of 420 on the list of agency components. AFGE reports TSA has imposed a hiring and overtime freeze on officers, saving up money for the busier summer travel season.

Two issues here. One is whether TSA should have a personnel system of its own. It’s not the only agency to have one. But I’ve never fully understood the distinctions made for people connected to national security.

Second is the pay issue. TSA, Department of Homeland Security headquarters, the White House and Congress all have to ultimately agree on the basic pay levels for the airport officers. Morale is low and pay is at a nearly clerical level, but nothing has prevented the parade of TSA officials over the years from proposing a higher scale, even if officers are not in Title 5. Border Patrol Agents fall under the GL pay system, basically the GS for law enforcement. They’re not lavishly paid either, but they can move up the GL ladder to $66,000 base pay and, according the Customs and Border Protection, another $38,000 in overtime, locality and premium pay.

Nuclear submarine crews are often said to be the best-fed in the Navy, even in the armed forces. And well they should be. They do difficult work in a difficult and dangerous environment for long periods of time.

Transportation Security Administration officers don’t get fed as part of their duties. They brown bag it or buy what’s available at the airport. They also do difficult work, and sometime encounter violence on the job.

Seems like the nation can do a little better by its TSA officers.

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